No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Social Aetiology of Disasters

Exploring the Origins of Disasters

Already in a 1979 article, sociologist Barry Turner discussed the evolving understanding of the origins of disasters. A short recap of that article:

In the past, disasters were viewed as rare, unpredictable cosmic events with little focus on their origins. Today, improved global communication and environmental knowledge have triggered interest in studying disaster origins.

Disasters are on the rise, especially in less industrialized countries, attributed to growing vulnerable populations. Mistakes by influential organizations can have far-reaching consequences. Human activities, including energy source accidents, rival natural disasters, necessitating a broader view of the origins of disasters.

Social causes are as vital as physical ones, yet information on social causes is limited. Investigating these causes is a research priority, with two suggested levels of analysis: global distributions of deaths, injuries, and losses, and specific events leading to disasters.

Vulnerability varies globally, influenced by factors like prosperity, resource access, and cultural risk attitudes. Resources are important in disaster mitigation, with prosperous nations being better prepared. Cultural attitudes impact vulnerability, as some underestimate risks while others prepare proactively. Administrative challenges in disaster readiness and response include enforcing regulations, diagnosing hazards, making decisions during crises, and handling information.

In conclusion, a socio-technical approach, considering both physical and social factors, is necessaryl to understand the origins of disasters.

Turner, B.A. (1979), The Social Aetiology of Disasters, in: Disasters, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 53-59.